Food For the Soul
Jews and Oil
Today, the walls of the ghetto no longer sequester us from the rest of society. We fraternize and do business with non-Jews on a daily basis and have become fully adjusted to western culture. The contemporary question is: how do we strike a balance between retaining our Jewish identity on the one hand, while at the same time being citizens of the world, especially when that world may be indifferent or even hostile to our Jewishness?
In the Parsha Tetzaveh we read about the pure olive oil which Moses was instructed to obtain for the kindling of the menorah in the Mishkan, the sanctuary built in the desert as the forerunner of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that oil holds the secret formula for how to successfully live a proud Jewish life in an environment which may be far from Jewishly conducive. Oil, you see, is a paradox. On the one hand, it spreads quickly and easily, seeping through and permeating the substances with which it comes in contact. On the other hand, when mixed with other liquids, oil stubbornly rises to the surface and refuses to be absorbed by anything else.
Like oil, Jews, too, will often find themselves mixing in a wide variety of circles — social, business, civic, communal or political. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. At the very same time, though, we need to remember never to lose our own identity. We should never mix to the point of allowing our own Jewish persona to be swallowed or diluted. We often feel a strong pressure, whether real or imagined, to conform to the norms around us. Few among us enjoy sticking out like a sore thumb. The fact is, however, that others respect us more when we respect ourselves. Most people are quite happy to accommodate individual needs and sensitivities. Our apprehensions about stating our religious requirements are often exaggerated and unfounded. Provided we do it honestly, respectfully and consistently, our adherence to a code of values will impress our associates and inspire them with greater confidence in our trustworthiness in all areas of activity.
Compromising our values and principles is a sure way to lose the respect we crave from the world around us. Dignity, pride and self-respect earn us the esteem and admiration of those around us, whether Jews or non-Jews. Just learn from the oil. By all means, spread around and interact with the rest of the world. But remember your uniqueness. Be distinctive and proud and know where to draw the line.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Dressing For Shabbat
If possible, the clothes we wear on Shabbat should be special for the day. Children, too, should have at least one Shabbat outfit. For women an excellent solution to the problem of appearing festive in a minimum of time and with a maximum of comfort is the “Shabbat robe.” This is a long, loose, comfortable, but especially beautiful robe or dress which you can slip into quickly for candle-lighting and, if you choose, wear all Shabbat night. It shouldn’t look like a bathrobe and it should be appropriately modest, but other than that, there’s no prescribed style. It can be a lovely caftan or hostess gown. Many we’ve seen look less like a robe than a long, loose-fitting dress. In any case, the “Shabbat robe” should be reserved for Shabbat only; part of the special ease and grace of the day.
Having a special Shabbat scarf for candle-lighting also enhances the moment for you and your family. Some women are lucky enough to have inherited one from their mother or grandmother. If you haven’t, maybe you could buy or embroider one yourself that could become a family heirloom.
From an article by Nechoma Greisman and Chana Ne’eman
Mind Over Matter
The Kabbalah of Fashion
In the Parshah Tetzaveh the High Priest is commanded to wear eight beautiful garments when he performs the service in the Temple. As G-d commands Moses: “You shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for honor and glory.” One may wonder why garments are critical to the service. Aren’t beautiful garments superficial and a symbol of vanity? Why doesn’t G-d focus on the priests’ internal, emotional and spiritual state rather than on the external garments? The answer is that the garments represent thought, speech and action, the metaphorical garments of the soul. The Torah is teaching us that if we want to come close to G-d, we should don beautiful garments. We should focus on positive garments, on positive action, even if those garments are a betrayal of our internal feelings. Because, ultimately, the beautiful garments, the positive action, will bring wholesomeness and completion to the internal soul.
From an article by Rabbi Menachem Feldman
It Shall Become Light!
As impossible as it sounds, as absurd as it may seem: The mandate of darkness is to become light; the mandate of a busy, messy world is to find oneness. We have proof: for the greater the darkness becomes and the greater the confusion of life, the deeper our souls reach inward to discover their own essence-core. How could it be that darkness leads us to find a deeper light? That confusion leads us to find a deeper truth? Only because the very act of existence was set from its beginning to know its own Author. As it says, “In the beginning . . . G-d said, ‘It shall become light!’”
Maamar V’nachah Alav 5725; Likkutei Sichot, vol. 10, pp. 7ff
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Have I Got A Story
Can Being an “Absent Parent” Ever Be Positive?
Years ago, I was taking my daughter to playgroup for her very first time. The pit in my stomach was growing; my anxiety was palpable. And yet, for her sake, I knew I needed to put on a mask of confidence and joy—even at that excruciating moment of separation. I blinked away my tears to show her strength I didn’t have, so that she could find her own.
Once, my daughter ran into my arms, crying rivers of tears because a friend had mistreated her. My motherly instinct wanted to rush to her defense, confront this other child, and warn my daughter to stay far away. Instead, it took every effort to withhold my sympathies and calmly help my daughter find solutions. The very next day, when I saw the two happily playing together, it sent a fresh shiver of worry down my spine, but I held myself back. I would listen and guide, but I needed to stay on the sidelines as I allowed her to mature and confront such situations on her own.
There are times when our restraint says so much more than our actions. We express our greatest love not in words, but in silence; not in action, but in inaction; not in falling apart, but in being stoically strong; not in providing solutions, but in allowing our children to discover their own.
A teacher’s greatest presence is not felt in the classroom, just as a parent’s is not within the walls of her home, but in the messages and life lessons that have been imparted.
In the Torah portion, Tetzaveh, Moses’s name—for the first time since he was born—is missing. The reason for its absence is that when the people of Israel sinned with the golden calf, Moses said to G-d: “If You do not forgive them, erase me from the book that You have written” (Exodus 32:31). This was realized in this portion, when his name is “erased.”
And yet, though his name is missing, Moses’s presence and love for his people and G-d is most evident. In fact, the word tetzaveh means “connection,” and through Moses, the Jewish people find their deepest connection and bond to G-d. Because when Moses asked that G-d erase him from the Torah if G-d does not forgive His people, he was demonstrating his essential unbreakable love and bond with them—and thereby their essential unbreakable bond with G-d. He was thereby demonstrating that this bond transcends everything—even the Torah itself—and he thus found forgiveness for his people.
There are times when our love is so great, it requires words and actions. And there are times when our love is so great, it is evident in our restraint—and in the absence of our names.
By Chana Weisberg